Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Access Restricted On-Campus Only

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Katherine K. Preston


Sir Arthur Sullivan will always be remembered as one half of the duo responsible for the genre known today as 'light opera'. From his collaborative efforts with Sir William S. Gilbert came some of the best known and beloved operettas in history, among them of course, The Pirates of Penzance. It is generally known that Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are above all works of parody and satire. Historical emphasis of this point, however, has usually focused on Gilbert's witty attacks on society and politics and his commentary on the absurdities of contemporary affairs. Music scholars and historians do not hesitate to classify Sullivan's music as parodistic in nature, but there has not much specific analysis on the various influences to be found in Sullivan's music has been done, in particular, the music of Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. Because of this oversight, Sullivan's skills as a composer--and more important, his ability to provide the perfect setting to Gilbert's quick witted script--are generally undervalued. In this paper I examine closely the music of one of Sullivan's models--the Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi. I analyze the scores of two of his most famous operas--La Traviata and Il Trovatore--and how several qualities of those works are manifested in Sullivan's music for The Pirates of Penzance. These qualities range from the general and broad--for example, various thematic similarities between the works--to explicit and particular, Sullivan's setting of onomatopoeic text in Pirates to match Verdi's instrumentation in La Traviata. From the evidence presented in this paper, it is clear that Sullivan had these two specific works of Verdi's in mind when writing music for The Pirates of Penzance. His true genius as a composer lies in his ability to display his own individuality while allowing the influence of Giuseppe Verdi to shape the music into a wonderful parody of grand opera.

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